November 23, 2008

Noah and the Problem of Original Sin/Total Depravity

I have recently been reading what I think is one of the most challenging books in the past couple of years that openly challenge the orthodox teachings of Calvinism and Original Sin/Total Depravity. Its entitled "Troubling Questions for a Calvinist and the Rest of Us, Taking a Closer Look at the Problem of Sin" by Lagard Smith. Smith does a tremendous job both logically and hermeneutically of dissecting the problems that the 5 points of Calvinism. Although I am only half way through the book, the majority of the book is addressing the two main underlying problems with Calvinism and that is Original Sin/Total Depravity and God's Sovereignty (as defined by Calvinist).

One of the best arguments that Smith brings up is against the problem of Original Sin and Predestination/Election (Absolute Foreknowledge) is in regards to Genesis 6:5. This verse brings to light many issues, especially concerning the demonstrated character of God throughout the bible. I emphasize "demonstrated" as this is typically an area that Calvinist either refuse to address or neglect altogether. When debating most Calvinist regarding how their theology painfully puts God's character into question, most will respond by saying "Who are you to question God" or "God is God and he has the right to do what ever he wants" or that man's sense of what is right or wrong is skewed by the fall of man. But is this true? Especially when the Bible says that God is love or that God is just and does what is right. If God is trying to relate to mankind who he is and what he is all about, doesn't anyone find it strange that God would somehow be offended if we even ask what "right" or "good" means? Doesn't anyone find it strange that if God is in the process of wanting man to turn from wrong to right that he would at least give us a benchmark by which to understand?

For example, Smith points out one of the scriptural dilemmas Calvinist face when trying to logically and rationally explain Genesis 6. These verses present some real difficulties for Calvinist when they try to harmonize, God's Character, Moral Ability and Accountability, Foreknowledge, and Sin. Smith says the following when discussing this issue:

"Wholly apart from God's obvious sovereign power to do as he pleases, are you not at all bothered by the thought if a God who would thrust damnable sin upon otherwise innocent infants as they come into the world? Would that be consistent with the loving, just, and righteous character of God as revealed in Scripture? (For the moment, we're not talking about ultimate salvation or damnation, only the starting point for each newborn soul). Then again, if you ever wanted to put God's character and justice to the test, it would have to be in the Flood. In light of the anguish we felt at the death of scores of thousands in a tsunami, what are we to think of a God who not only permits wholesale death by drowning, but specifically decrees it for the entire then known world of men, women and children?

Some would say that Noah's generation would have deserved it, not only because of their exceeding wickedness, but also (in the case of infants) because of their innate depravity. In that regard, is there a case to be made for man's depravity from the fact that "the Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only on evil all the time"?

Central to that sentence, of course are those two key worlds "had become" - which would hardly suggest either imputed sin or inborn depravity. We see those same words again in Genesis 6:11, followed by the observation that "all people on earth had corrupted their ways".

Doesn't sound exactly like the result of a divinely-imposed penalty of universal condemnation, does it? If it were, how could Noah have escaped the penalty and turned out righteous? It must not be overlooked that God said to Noah: "Go into the ark.....because I have found you righteous in this generation (Gen 7:1) - not "I have specifically foreordained you to be righteous."

What's more, if the foreordaining sovereign God himself had imposed the twin penalties if original sin and total depravity int eh wake of Adam's sin. it would be strange indeed for him to lament mankind's universal wickedness, saying: "I am grieved that I have made them" (Gen 6:8). Why should God grieve about the state of human existence over which he had, not just foreknowledge, but total predestining control from before the dawn of Creation?

Of one thing we can be sure: The notion that God arbitrarily assigns condemnation for sin is not even remotely harmonious with the theme-line running throughout the entire Bible, in which God demands, pleads, begs, and implores man not to sin!"

Indeed this is a perplexing issue for Calvinist as their theology seems to run counter to that of what the Bible clearly demands regarding sin and God's rightful demands that we turn and repent from sin. But again, this is just one of the many problems Calvinism creates or causes.

More to come regarding this latest read!